This interview originally appeared in a live Facebook interview with Kirsten Sass and is transcribed here.
The Fresh Freestyle coach crew and friends were excited to chat with amazing athlete Kirsten Sass yesterday, the day after her age group AND overall female win at the ITU Long Course Triathlon World Championships this weekend in OKC USA.
We were grateful for her to spend an hour answering any questions we had. In case you are not on FB or missed the chat here are some excerpts from the conversation.
Qu: Congratulations Kirsten! What will you do today as part of your recovery?
Kirsten: Thank you! Well – it will not be the most ideal recovery day as most of it will be spent driving home! I will just try to get out of the car periodically and do some moving around. 😉 Probably a nice easy swim tomorrow will help more than anything!
Qu: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions! I have one more: what is your go-to recovery snack after a training session?
Kirsten: A lot of times it depends on how intense the training session was. If first thing in the morning I try to just eat a good breakfast within 30-45 minutes of finishing. If I just need something to tide me over, my all-time favorite snack is a banana with almond butter.
Qu: Wondering how you balance everything between the kids and training? Spending 40 hours working every week and 3-4 hours a day with the kids how do you fit it all in and have energy to make it to the weekend? What are the most important tips for getting it all in and who are the most important members of your Team?
Kirsten: Great question! None of that would be possible without the support of my amazing husband. I tend to get up early, (sometimes REALLY early) and that is when I try to do my most important training session for that day. I then am able to spend some time with the kids before school; I start work around 7, so my husband takes them to school. I generally finish work around 3 so I can get an afternoon training session in if needed, and still have the late afternoon/evenings for family time.
Qu: What does your typical week look like in training?
Kirsten: Well, it depends a lot on what I am training for. It has been rather interesting the past month getting ready for a sprint draft legal race, an olympic distance tri, and a long course that was almost an Ironman distance. Typically I try to get in a good quality tempo/interval session of each discipline, a longer distance of each, and a recovery/skills based session of each. Then, depending on how that goes and how my time is, I may add in some additional sessions. Biking is my favorite, so I typically try to do a group ride in there somewhere.
Qu: The weekend before sprint and international races in Cozumel, this weekend long course in Lake Hefner OKC, two very different swims. Was there anything you did differently in the 2 environments?
Kirsten: Great question! They were two very different swims. The swim in Cozumel was relatively calm, but with a very strong current. I was actually fortunate to find a swimmer of similar ability and stay with her (hoping that would help some with the current). The swim yesterday was pretty amazing. It was very windy, and the water was really choppy. I have done ocean swims that were more calm. White caps, rollers, almost felt like body surfing and getting caught in undertows at places. Difficult to sight due to the waves. And there were shallow areas where people were actually walking. So – a little bit of everything! I found that I just really had to relax and try to ‘become one with the water’ – not fighting it but letting the chop carry me if needed. I also resorted to a flash-back from my early days of triathlon . . . when I first started I had a race where the swim was a mass start and I got a little panicked. I noticed it was a beautiful sunrise and just tried to take it in every time I took a breath. After the race I was talking to my dad and some friends, and they teased me about looking at the sunrise. Then they realized I had the fastest swim split of the group . . . . 🙂 Well, yesterday I spent a lot of time looking up at the sky – because I was more likely to actually be able to get some air by doing that! The one thing both swims had in common though, was really not expending a lot of energy trying to ‘push through’ or ‘fight’ the water, but to trust my form and training, and swim efficiently. I felt great getting out of the water yesterday!!!!
Qu: I’m doing the half in Cozumel next week. Could you share any tips or strategies as to how you adjusted your fueling and hydration plans to deal with the heat and humidity?
Kirsten: So, living in TN I am pretty used to hot and humid. Cozumel is a different kind of hot and humid. The sun just feels ‘stronger’ somehow if that makes sense – we have decided maybe because it is closer to the equator. Definitely try to arrive a few days early to adjust, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Electrolytes will be key. Have something to drink while waiting for the start. Drink early and regularly on the bike. Take in water/electrolytes every aid station on the run. Wear a cap and fill it with ice at the aid stations on the run – or if a visor is more your speed then be sure to dump some cold water on your head every chance you get. Hydrate and stay as cool as possible!
Qu: What is your favorite thing about the sport of triathlon?
Kirsten: Hands down, my favorite thing about triathlon is the community. While an ‘individual’ sport, the support I have always received from my fellow competitors never ceases to astound me. There is something about sharing that experience of testing your limits and pushing yourself above and beyond – it creates this environment of unity that is hard to recreate. I think that is why I have especially enjoyed racing the World Championship events this year so much – being part of Team USA exemplifies that in so many ways. It is a most amazing experience – and I would highly encourage everyone to do a World Championship event if given the opportunity. Very, very inspiring.
Qu: And your second favorite thing?
Kirsten: After racing yesterday, I realized what I also love, and why I continue to race as much as I do, is the challenge. I train hard, I make choices in what I do and don’t do, because I love it. You go to a race, and the conditions are challenging. Especially with the longer races – the challenge increases. Suddenly it is about much more than just the physical. There is nutrition, hydration, and most of all, psychological. You can do the training – can you put that training to work in a race? Can you continue to push once the going gets tough? There is always something in a race that doesn’t go according to plan. Can you get through that and just keep moving forward? Can you adapt and overcome? Can you acknowledge that voice inside you that says you need to slow down and recognize whether you really do or if it’s just saying that? I was telling a friend of mine that it is like why I love doing Time Trials – the ‘race of truth’. There is no hiding, no drafting, no easy-way-outs – it is you and your ability. When you are able to do your training justice, and push through, and go beyond what you might have thought was possible – well it is just an incredible thing. It is what keeps driving me, and why I hope to continue doing these races as long as I am able. And – I would be remiss to fail to acknowledge the roll of all those spectating and cheering on and off the course. That truly makes a difference – and many a time has gotten me to continue to push when the mind said to slow down.
Qu: When did you start triathlon and what was your swimming background prior to that?
Kirsten: I started doing triathlons in 1999. Growing up my swimming background was a backyard pool and Girl Scouts (side-stroke, hahaha) at the lake. When I went to university my roommate challenged me to try swimming because ‘it was a good form of exercise’ – so we went to the university pool – and it was ALL I could do to make it 25 meters. I looked around at everyone else swimming with apparent ease, and knew that I should be able to do that – so I started swimming. I met a girl who was there frequently who turned out to be the coach for the university triathlon club, and she invited me to start swimming with them. She was a Total Immersion Swimming coach at that time, and started teaching me drills and technique based swimming. My father had also discovered Total Immersion, and when I went home for the summer, continued to help me work on my swimming. Then he signed me up for my first race. And that is how it all began… And, although swimming continues to be my biggest challenge in triathlon, I truly love it. I love the feeling of when the stroke comes together, and everything just flows smoothly. I love doing an open water swim in the early morning when the lake is like glass and the sun is just coming up. I love the challenge of trying to ‘find faster’, while balancing form and efficiency. I love the ‘more intense’ – longer, interval-type swims, and I equally love the ‘just get in the pool and enjoy swimming’ swims. There is always, always, something to learn and more to gain….
Qu: One of my favorite things to ask you about is your nutrition…can you share a typically race day’s nutrition strategy, and maybe also a typical or favorite non-race-day meal?
Kirsten: I discovered this amazing product called UCAN. It is a ‘super starch’ meaning it provides a steady energy source without spiking blood sugar (like sugary gels and such will do). It is my number one pre-race nutrition. I like the protein formula – it is a powder I just mix with water and drink about 45 minutes before I race. If it is a short race (sprint) then a lot of times that is all I need. For a longer race I will generally eat a few boiled eggs, some white rice, and a banana with almond butter early. Then still use the Generation UCAN just before the race.They also make bars which I used yesterday on the bike, and then for a half or full IM if I need something on the run my favorite is Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut almond butter. As far as a non-race-day meal . . .I am lucky again in that my husband LOVES to cook. And he does it very well! I don’t do any grains – other than plain white rice. People are always surprised, but, although lacking in nutrients, it is easily digested and I generally just eat it after a training session. Otherwise I follow something similar to the Whole 30 – lots of fresh veggies, and lean meat. My diet also changes depending on racing and season. In the winter we will do more soups, butternut/spaghetti squash, etc, while in the summer it is more of the fresh vegetables in season, salads, etc.
Qu:It seems to be working well for you. Plenty of folks struggle with nutrition…how long did it take you to sort out your current strategy?
Kirsten: It actually started back in 2014 because I somehow committed myself to several Ironman distance races within a short period of time, and I knew nutrition would be paramount. I contacted UCAN, and also worked with a nutritionist for a while, because I really wanted to dial it in and did not have time or room for errors. I worked with her for about 6 mos – through the Ironman(s) and a little into the off-season just to make sure I knew how to continue on my own. Apart from that, it is still a bit of a continuous learning process. Sometimes what always worked in the past stops working, and sometimes I just crave something new. I really try to be in tune with my body, and trust my instincts if that makes sense….
What a great opportunity to get to know Kirsten, and learn a little about the life of a truly gifted and amazing athlete!
Thank you Kirsten for spending Sunday morning with us!